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Hemro Group prepares for the future

From the March 2019 issue.

Hemro Group enters 2019 with new products, processes, and leadership. Speaker of the Management Board Marcel Lehmann talks to Global Coffee Report about lean principles and casting a vision for the coffee grinding industry.

As the global coffee industry continues to expand its presence and drive innovation to keep up with the demands of its increasingly knowledgeable and curious consumer base, opportunities to influence cup quality and improve customer experience are getting more attention.

Despite the fact that grinding coffee is a single and relatively quick part of the brewing process, it has a substantial impact on flavour and cup excellence. As such, companies like Hemro Group are looking for ways to help its customers improve quality or add value.

“People are starting to recognise that the best cup of coffee is also highly related to how you grind the beans,” says Marcel Lehmann, Speaker of the Management Board at Hemro Group, which owns the Mahlkönig, Ditting, Anfim, and HeyCafé brands of premium coffee grinders.

Lehmann acknowledges that grinders often don’t get the credit they deserve. In fact, before he left a consulting role at Porsche to join Hemro in 2017 as Chief Operating Officer, he was equally unaware of their value or the companies making waves in the niche industry.

“When you’re not in the coffee industry, you may not know there is a difference in coffee grinding machines or recognise [the brands] the way people can identify a sports car on the street,” Lehmann tells Global Coffee Report.

After only a short time in his new industry, Lehmann learned that Hemro’s grinders have fans as equally as enthusiastic as Porsche’s. “Every day I witness the same level of enthusiasm among [the grinder users] as I have experience with new car buyers,” he says, even citing examples of Mahlkönig tattoos.

“Our fans love coffee and they really enjoy the products. We are incredibly proud to produce grinders that individuals admire and give loyalty to. Of course we want to see that grow and strengthen in the future.”

Something for everyone
Those fans are at the heart of Hemro’s business, which is why the Swiss company sought to build a complete one-stop-shop for a wide variety of premium grinding solutions. From the super premium Mahlkönig grinder to the high precision Ditting shop grinder, or Anfim’s genuine Italian espresso grinder to the entry-level HeyCafé model, Hemro’s brands have been focused on developing grinding solutions for decades. Besides this full spectrum of shop, espresso, and industrial grinders, Hemro also offers what it calls “tailored solutions”, customised grinding solutions for every customer, application, need, and budget.

“What we’re saying is ‘we understand grinding, so come to us with your problem and we will find the solution you need’,” Lehmann explains. “We work together with our customers and really dig into their problems to find them the best solution across our portfolio.”

The challenge with such a complete and diverse offering, Lehmann says, is ensuring each brand not only continues to serve its specific customer base at a high quality, but also aligns with the entire portfolio and company vision.

“It’s quite the task to bring all four brand identities together and leverage the strengths of each brand, while facing quite different demands from [each of their customer bases],” he says.

Lehmann is also conscious of the potential for one brand to dilute the business of a sister brand within a portfolio. “It’s key to fill spaces where you don’t already exist,” he says. “So for us, these four brands have been quite a good match.”

Partnerships with Mahlkönig and Ditting, German and Swiss companies respectively, were part of the initial Hemro launch in 2007. In 2012, it acquired Italian manufacturer Anfim. Chinese producer HeyCafé, the youngest of the bunch, joined recently.

The company portfolio also includes a state-of-the-art burr production facility in Germany so the four brands and their customers have access to high-quality burrs over the lifetime of the grinders – a key component to perfecting the end cup of coffee.

Even though three of the four brands have been around for decades – Mahlkönig and Ditting date back to the 1920s and Anfim to the 1960s – Hemro itself is young and has seen a lot of change recently. As such, the energy and current management style at the company are like that of a startup, Lehmann says.

“There’s quite a lot of change happening right now, but it’s good. We have a team where everyone is willing to learn and develop. I love that dynamic team spirit – together we are taking each leap at an impressive pace, witnessing and capturing immediate results, replicating the good and learning from the bad, and celebrating each milestone together.”

Changing of the guard
Being a relatively young company with new leadership has propelled Hemro forward with a fresh perspective. While it inherited the strong brands and customer bases of the premium grinder manufacturers, it also inherited old patterns and ways of doing things that no longer worked in the fast-moving industry, such as assembling each grinder piece individually.

So part of Lehmann’s role when he joined was to evaluate how things were being done internally and what improvements could be made. One major adjustment was implementing lean principles across the entire business. From operations and purchasing to production and assembly lines, teams took steps to streamline processes, increase efficiency, reduce wasted resources, and improve workflow.

Lehmann, who moved into his current leadership role in 2018, is quick to point out that improving efficiencies and increasing capacity isn’t about “making people work faster or putting more pressure on them, but about setting the standards we want to follow, understanding processes clearly and then providing guidance. It’s about focusing on the things that bring value”.

Following implementation of Hemro’s lean principles during the past two years, the company has almost doubled the capacity of grinders it can produce, including grinding discs and Mahlkönig’s beloved premium grinder, the EK43. The move toward lean also helped improve efficiencies, and reduce opportunities for wasted resources – all while maintaining high-quality products for its customers, and a strong internal culture.

“It’s been a refreshing way to grow the business. We talked a lot about processes and product, but from a cultural point of view we tried to bring in a new spirit to build a culture of coffee enthusiasts,” Lehmann explains. “Changing processes is one thing, but changing people and breaking up those old patterns is even more difficult.”

The next wave
The departure from old ways of doing things is also something Hemro has implemented externally. But to understand what could be improved on the product side, Hemro went straight to the industry for input. In order to make the right product decisions and take action, “we seek to be aligned with and stay much closer to the customer”, Lehmann says. “We need to be one of the first to hear and understand the most recent requirements and trends in the market.”

In addition to building sales hubs for all regions around the world to have representatives closer to its customers, Hemro also kicked off a coffee industry summit to meet and exchange the latest insights with experts throughout the entire coffee value chain. This included discussing common problems in grinding and brewing, gaining feedback on Hemro’s latest fleet of grinders, and even the first glimpse of new models on the horizon.

The goal is to better understand what Hemro customers truly need, Lehmann tells GCR. “And what we came out [of that] with was a demand for additional products to what we were offering. It gave us the missing pieces to the complete 360-degree customer perspective. We took all this into consideration and developed our first wave of Next Generation grinders, engineered and built to specifically meet those customer needs.”

At the World of Coffee Expo in Amsterdam June 2018, Hemro debuted three of those Next Generation grinders: Mahlkönig’s E65S, and Anfim’s Practica and Solida.

Hemro plans to implement the valuable feedback across its entire portfolio and release new Next Generation products in subsequent waves over the next couple years. In fact, “within the coming years, you will see a new grinder portfolio”, Lehmann says. “It’s quite an exciting time for our company to renew our product lines and bring new solutions to our customers.”
He understands, though, that they will have to continue listening to the industry and to their customers in order to stay ahead. Similar to what was uncovered during internal process evaluations, “current patterns may not work in the future, so we have to really understand not only how customers use grinders now, but also how they will want to use them in the future”, Lehmann explains. “We have to be the first to understand that and then the first to translate that into a solution in order to remain an innovator in the industry.”

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